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NOVEMBER 1987 



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VIRGINIA! S jWHITETAILS 






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When Virginia began deer checking stations in 1947, the total harvest was 4,01 1. By the end of the 
most recent 1986 season that figure had grown to a whopping 121,801. A few thousand more can be 
added annually from losses resulting from crop damage, auto collisions and disease die-offs and, still, 
deer numbers continue to expand in many areas. Such numbers of deer were unknown in colonial 
times and this phenomenal growth did not come about by accident. 

Most state fish and wildlife agencies were formed just after the turn of this century in an effort to 
improve wildlife numbers which had been depleted by uncontrolled habitat destruction and market 
hunting. With the support of sportsmen and concerned conservation groups, wildlife protection 
programs were set in motion. Sadly, however, funds derived soley from sportsman license fees barely 
provided for basic enforcement of wildlife laws. Little, if any money was available for habitat 
improvement, research, wildlife stocking or land acquisition. 

In September of this year, the nation's sportsmen celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Federal Aid 
in Wildlife Restoration Act, a state-federal cooperative program supported by a federal excise tax on 
sporting arms and ammunition. More commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson or "P-R" Act, the 
sportsman-funded program provided the states with the needed funds to begin wildlife restoration 
programs without resorting to general tax revenues. 

One of the most successful of the "P-R funded" wildlife management stories has been the impressive 
return of the white-tailed deer. Faced with near extinction when the Virginia Game Department was 
formed in 1916, white-tailed deer are now commonplace in most areas. Although much as been 
learned about managing deer populations over the last 50 years, little would have been possible 
without sportsman support for those efforts. On occasion, that support surely required more than a 
full measure of trust! The thought of hunting an animal which had been protected for so long was 
difficult for many sportsmen, and if "bucks only" hunting wasn't bad enough, those darn biologists 
were soon talking about hunting doe deer. 

Department biologists, game wardens and many hunt clubs now know that hunting bucks only or 
failure to take a adequate number of doe deer places too much strain on the buck segment of the 
population, resulting in too few trophy bucks and an overpopulation of doe deer. But, it is possible for 
anyone to improve deer conditions if they are willing to adopt some basic deer management principles, 
keep a few simple records and exercise patience. 

The series of articles that follow illustrate what we have learned and what we are doing to provide for 
quality deer management. With the proper application of the knowledge we have gained, we can help 
ensure that future Virginians will have healthy numbers of whitetails to enjoy. It is to that end that this 
issue of Virginia Wildlife is dedicated. 

Jack Raybourne 
Chief, Division of Game 



Dedicated to the Conservation of Virginia's 
Wildlife and Related Natural Resources 
Commonwealth of Virginia 
Gerald L. Baliles, Governor 

Members of the Board 

Henry A. Thomas, Alexandria 

Chairman 

Eli B. Jones, Jr., Tazewell 

Vice-chairman 

Omar W. Ball, Powhatan 

Lou Costello, Winchester 

Thomas C. Leggett, South Boston 

R. Leon McFillen, McLean 

Moody E. Stallings, Jr., Virginia Beach 

Frank T. Sutton, IH, Richmond 

James Davenport, Newp)ort News 

Leon O. Turner, Roanoke 

Officers 

James A. Remington, Director 

John P. Randolph, Assistant Director 

Harry L. Gillam, Chief, Education 

Larry Han, Chief, Lands and Engineering 

Jack M. Hoffman, Chief, Fish 

Col. Gerald Simmons, Chief, Law Enforcement 

Sam J. Putt, Chief, Administrative Services 

Jack W. Raybourne, Chief, Game 

Magazine Staff 

Carl C. Knuth, Publications Editor 
Virginia Shepherd, Editor 
Cindie Brunner, Art Director 
Carol Kushlak, Composition Editor 
Barbara Dawson, Circulation 



Color separations and printing by Donihe Gra- 
phics, Kingsport, Tennessee 



Virginia Wildlife (ISSN 0042 6792) is published 
monthly by the Education Division of the Virginia 
Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Box 
1 1 104. 4010 West Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia 
23230-1 104. Second class postage paid at Richmond, 
Virgirua and additional mailing offices. POSTMAS- 
TER: Send address changes to Virginia Wildlife, P.O. 
Box 11104, Richmond, Virginia 23230-1104. 

Subscription department: 804/257-1000. Rates: one 
year, $7.50; three years, $18.00; back issues $1.00 
each subject to availability. 

Submission guidelines available upon request. The 
Department accepts no responsibility for unsolicited 
manuscripts, photographs or artwork. Permission to 
reprint material from Virginia Wildlife must be 
obtained from the writer, artist or photographer as 
well as the managing editor. 

Observations, conclusions and opinion expressed in 
Virginia Wildlife are those of the authors and do not 
necessarily reflect those of the members or staff of the 
Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. 



November Issue 



Volume 48, Number 1 1 



VIRGINIA'S WHITETAILS 

Most of us have seen them shadowed on the dark side of afield at dusk, or standing, 
twitching their ears behind some small dogwood in the summer. By fall, they vanish in a 
gray November fog, and we wait for them silently in our tree starxds, waiting for them to 
ease out of the mist and stop frozen, staring at us with racks we've only seen pictures of. 

But we don't often think abota how much thought goes irxto taking care of the species. 
Our wildlife biologists, though, are particularly fussy about the whitetail. Perhaps it's 
because we rxearly lost the whole dam f>opulation of them not too long ago, and our 
wildlife bwlog^ts are rvow bound and determined to keep the animci alive ar\d vuell in 
this state. But, wildlife management is not easy. It may look easy, when we reel off our 
recommendatioixs for seasons and bag limits and doe days by county every two years. 
But, an awful lot goes ir\to it. 

So in this issue, in the hopes of revealing some of the hard thinking that goes into the 
maintenance of healthy whitetails in Virgjinia, our biologists have taken words to paper, 
to explain what they do, arui why they do it — to keep deer tracks in our woods. 

5 Management by Bob Duncan 

An overview of deer management principles and how we apply 
them to our herds in Virginia. 

1 1 Habitat by Jerry Sims 

Deer are pretty adaptable animals, but the land can be manipu- 
lated to improve deer numbers and the quality of the deer in an 
area, 

15 Trophy Deer by Mack Walls 

In a unique program, the Game Department is manipulating a 
deer herd at the Radford Arsenal for quality deer hunting. 

20 Research byjoeCoggin 

When wildlife managers are faced with questions and problems, 
they turn to research for the answers. 

24 Damage byDonSchawb 

When deer become overpopulated in an area, human/deer con- 
flicts inevitably occur. Crop and forest damage are foremost 
among the problems. 

28 Disease by Jim Bowman and Jack Gwynn 

Whitetails are subject to a variety of diseases, and an under- 
standing of the causes of these diseases is vital for the proper 
management of the species. 

32 Hunter Safety by Sgt. Diane Thompson 

Safety in the deer woods should be the hunter's number one 
priority this season. 



White-tailed deer in velvet; photo by William S. Lea. 

Back cover: White-tailed doe; photo by Roy Edwards ^^^^^_^^^^^ 

Inside back cover: Antlered whitetail jumping fence; photo by William S. Lea 




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Management 



VIRGINIA'S WHITETAILS 



Despite the old adage, "Never 
look a gift horse in the 
mouth," that is the first thing 
a wildlife biologist does when he runs a 
check station in the fall in order to 
collect data on the health of a deer 
herd. Sounds crazy, but it's tame com- 
pared to the response a biologist gets 
when he tells "buck hunters" that in 
order to have more bucks to hunt, they 
need to shoot more does. Wildlife 
management can be a puzzling science, 
to put it mildly. 

But, if you're in the business of 
maintaining healthy wildlife popula- 
tions, you find yourself doing a lot of 
things that seem strange to a lot of 
people. However, once you understand 
the basic principles of wildlife man- 
agement, you'll see how all these 
"crazy" pieces of information fit to- 
gether to form a invaluable picture of a 
wildlife population. That picture is 
what we use to make our management 
recommendations. 

Thus, the purpose of this article is to 
provide you with an overview of the 
Game Department's deer management 
program, by explaining how we collect 
and use deer data to manage whitetails 
in the Old Dominion. We'll discuss 
some harvest strategies and some of the 
principles of deer herd management 
and offer a few suggestions as to what 
you as an individual deer hunter might 
do to improve your sport. 

But, first, it might be helpful to take 
a quick look back to see how we got to 
the point of having to look our deer in 
the mouth. 

Historical accounts indicate an abun- 
dance of white-tailed deer in Colonial 
Virginia. Between the years 1698 and 
1715, approximately 14,000 deer hides 
were exported annually and concern 




by Bob Duncan 

Assistant Chief 
Game Division 



Opposite: photo I731 Tim Black 



for year-round harvest resulted in the 
General Assembly passing legislation 
in 1699 which prohibited deer hunting 
from February 1 though July 31. Still, 
by the early 1900's the deer herds in 
the mountains of Virginia were nearing 
extinction. 

Concern over declining wildlife 
populations resulted in the establish- 
ment of the Game Department in 
1916. Early efforts were aimed at pro- 
tecting the remaining deer since esti- 
mates for the annual deer harvest dur- 
ing the 1920's averaged only 619 deer 
for the 33 counties open. 

Obviously, one of the highest priori- 
ties of the Department at that time was 
to restore deer numbers, especially in 
the western part of the state. Early 
records of deer stocking are incom- 
plete; however, deer were imported 
from as far away as Wisconsin, Michi- 
gan, Pennsylvania, North CaroUna and 
Alabama, from 1930 to 1950. From 
the 1950's until the late 70's, deer were 
live-captured and relocated through- 
out the state. The majority of man- 
agement effort in those "early days" 
went into restocking and protecting 
those initial herds. 

As a result of those early efforts, 
whitetails in the Commonwealth now 
number an estimated 600,000 out of 
approximately 14 million nationwide. 
A recent survey found that deer are the 
most popular species among hunters 
and that deer hunting is increasing in 
popularity faster than any other form 
of hunting. 

Virginia deer hunters are no excep- 
tion to that national trend when it 
comes to their devotion to the number 
one big game animal. Approximately 
86% of all licensed hunters in Virginia 
hunt deer, and more than one-half of 



NOVEMBER 1987 



all the days spent hunting each year in 
the Old Dominion are spent in pursuit 
of the whitetail. Our deer harvest pla- 
ces Virginia in the top dozen states in 
the country and hunter success con- 
tinues to increase, with a deer hunter 
success rate of 38.6% last season. 

With a few local exceptions, the 
challenge of managing deer in modern 
day Virginia has shifted almost com- 
pletely from establishing deer herds to 
the question of controlling deer num- 
bers and providing for improved qual- 
ity. Thus, today there are two major 
goals of deer management set by the 
Game Department. The first is to pro- 
vide as much deer hunting opportunity 
as possible without harming the re- 
source, and the second is to provide for 
population control necessary for herd 
health and reduced crop damage. 

The cornerstone of the Virginia deer 
management program is a checking 
system that allows the Department to 
monitor the annual reported harvest. 
The mandatory checking system for 
big game was established in 1947 and 
has continued through the present day, 
thanks to the services of some 1,300 
volunteer check station operators, who 
have become a valuable part of the deer 
management program in Virginia. 

In addition to the standard data 
supplied by the big game check card 
(county of kill, sex of deer, type of 
license, weapon and class of land, etc.), 
game division personnel collect addi- 
tional deer data at approximately 40 
selected checking stations across the 
state. These special stations give our 
technical personnel the opportunity to 
collect biological information needed 
for management. Specifically, carcass 
weights, the age of the deer based on 
tooth replacement and wear, sex of the 
animal, antler development, reproduc- 
tive status for does and general condi- 
tion are recorded. Department techni- 
cal personnel examine approximately 
6,900 individual animals each year 
during the season, amounting to about 
a 5'/2% sample of the total reported 
harvest. 

Elsewhere in this issue, Jack Gwynn, 
with many years of deer management 
experience, explains the abomasal par- 
asite counts which, besides check sta- 
tion reports, are a standard part of deer 



VIRGINIA DEER HARVEST 
1948 through 1986 



300 



Thousands 




48 60 62 64 66 68 eO ea 64 ee 66 70 72 74 70 78 80 82 84 86 

Years 

■I WBSt of Blue Ridge H East of Blue Ridge WM Statewide 

DEER HUNTER SUCCESS 



40- 



30- 



Percent Success 




47 48 51 53 55 57 58 81 63 66 67 68 71 73 75 77 78 81 83 85 

Years 

DOE AND BUCK HARVEST 

mousands 
MO- 

120 — 

100 — 

80 — 

60 — 

20-1 

19771978197giSB0 19B1196219B319B4igB519BE 

YEARS 
H DCE HARVESTS ^M ANIlfiGl BUQS ^M TOTM. OB) 

VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 




herd health checks. These stomach 
worm counts provide indirect evidence 
as to the nature of the quaUty of the 
deer habitat. The findings of these 
health checks provide supporting data 
which usually confirms other observa- 
tions. Deer herds which are sampled 
and found to have exceedingly high 
stomach worm counts, usually also 
have other indications of over-popu- 
lation and many areas with these symp- 
toms have actually experienced die- 
offs, usually through disease outbreaks. 
Too many deer in an area results in 
decreasing body size, increasing num- 
bers of yearling bucks with spikes, and 
reduced reproduction. Usually, these 
conditions evoke complaints from 
hunters about inbreeding or poor 
genetic stock, although more and more 
informed deer hunters are coming to 
understand the inverse relationship 
between deer numbers and quality. To 
be sure, genetics play a role, but basi- 
cally, deer are what they eat! 

In fact, much of what has been said 
or written about the role of genetics 
has been misunderstood. Genetics do 
play a role, especially in terms of the 
characteristics of antler conformation, 
including oddities such as drop points, 
forked tines and other nontypical 
points. But, the idea that a buck, once a 
spike, will always remain a spike, simply 
is not true. Take the yearling spike that 
was tagged at Radford Arsenal two 
years ago which was subsequently 
harvested as a 7-point the next season. 
Contrary to common hunting camp 
opinion, not all yearlings have spikes as 
their first set of antlers. In fact, given a 
diet with sufficient protein, yearling 
bucks should have antlers which are 
anything but spikes. 

Thus, an increase in the number of 
yearling bucks with spike antlers is a 
symptom of too many deer for the 
food supply. Similarly, a decline in the 
average hog-dressed weight of yearling 
bucks is another good indication of 
overpopulation. With does, overpop- 
ulation or crowding results in lower 
body weights, reduced reproductive 
rates and poor fawn survival. 

Despite notions to the contrary, 
"Mother Nature" has some pretty 
harsh methods for dealing with over- 
population of animals, especially deer, 



which have a great capacity to literally 
eat themselves out of house and home. 
Starvation losses during the winter 
usually occur in more northern states, 
although dead deer, which were be- 
lieved to have died from malnutrition, 
have been found in non-hunted areas 
in Virginia. Disease outbreaks are more 
commonly the cause of mortality in 
whitetails in the southeastern U.S., 
with the most common being hemor- 
rhagic disease, a viral disease discussed 
in detail in Jim Bowman's article on 
parasites and disease. 

Normally, however, neither disease 
nor starvation results in the loss of all 
deer in an area. Some animals usually 
survive, and when the habitat has reco- 
vered from over-browsing, the remain- 
ing deer will replenish the population. 
One of the fundamentals of deer 
hunting and game management is to 
take the boom or bust, feast or famine 
fluctuations out of the picture and 
provide for herd health and produc- 
tion on a sustained yield basis. The key 
to this is to harvest enough of both 
bucks and does to keep the herd at 
carrying capacity, which is the number 
of deer that can be supported in a 
healthy condition without damage to 
the habitat. 

Regional biologist Mack Walls has 
written about the Radford Arsenal 
Deer Hunting Program which the Game 
Division administers. For years, dis- 
trict biologist Al Guthrie and his per- 
sonnel captured deer there for stocking 
in other areas. Some bucks were taken 
with most shipments, but the emphasis 
was on removing does from the powder 
plant. As a result of removing both 
sexes of deer, the plant herd was gener- 
ally held in "balance" with the carrying 
capacity of the range and quality deer, 
and a favorable buck to doe ratio has 
been maintained. 

Unlike most areas where hunting 
pressure is high for bucks, Radford 
bucks survive to old age classes. One 
buck taken during the 1985 season at 
Radford was an 8 '/i-y ear-old grandaddy 
of a buck with a 10-point headress! 
The largest taken that same year was a 
15-point that tipped the scales at 231 
pounds and aged at 6'/2 years! Another 
6 '/2-year-old, carried an 18-point rack 
with a total body weight of 1 77 pounds. 



In fact, three out of every five bucks 
taken at Radford in 1985 were 8, 9, or 
10-pointers! 

Even though drought conditions in 
1986 reduced habitat quality, four 
Radford bucks that year hit the scales 
at over 200 pounds apiece. These 
included a 6'/2 year old at 234 pounds, 
a 5 '/2-year-old at 220 pounds, a 4'/- 
year-old at 228 pounds, and a 3'/i- 
year-old at 220 pounds. When is the 
last time you or a hunt club member 
killed a buck of this size or age? 

While it is not practical for the 
Department to set regulations to man- 
age for trophy bucks statewide, it is the 
intent of our regulations to provide for 
herd health. Keeping a herd within the 
carrying capacity of the land is the 
absolute first step toward quality deer 
management. Harvesting a sufficient 
number of antlerless deer will greatly 
improve the sex ratio of a herd and the 
quality as well. 

Although the Department establishes 
hunting regulations on a two year 
basis, Game Division personnel collect 
deer data every year. This data becomes 
the basis for analyzing the status of a 
herd and provide indications as to any 
changes needed in harvest regulations. 
By looking at check station data, deer 
damage, habitat conditions, and paras- 
ite counts, the management prescrip- 
tion becomes clear. 

Generally, the Game Department 
manages deer on a county by county 
basis. Whether by county or by deer 
management unit, the Department is 
necessarily concerned with the overall 
picture for the county, the region and 
the entire state. Game Division biolo- 
gists meet to discuss preliminary hunt- 
ing season recommendations, then 
meet with other department personnel 
statewide to discuss proposals. A final 
Game Division staff meeting is held to 
complete recommendations to the 
Department's Board. The meetings are 
held in the odd numbered years and 
generally the first proposal hearing is 
held in March. Following a public 
notice procedure, a second meeting for 
the adoption of game regulations is 
held, usually in late April or early May. 

Basically, seasonal deer bag limits 
are employed to provide for an equita- 
ble distribution of the harvest; how- 



NOVEMBER 1987 



7 




ever, since areas differ in capacity to 
support deer, the bag limit is adjusted 
accordingly. This can range from the 
one per year (bucks only) regulations 
in southwestern counties to three per 
license year (one of which must be an 
antlerless deer) in the soybean and 
peanut country of southeastern Vir- 
ginia. 

This past year, deer season regula- 
tions were changed in 18 counties, 13 
of which received increases or liberali- 
zations of some type. Changes include 
an increase in the season bag limit 
(from two to three); an increase in the 
number of either sex deer hunting 
days; or a combination of these two. 
Five counties were given more restric- 
tive regulations to provide for deer 
herd increases. 



Other types of regulation changes, 
like adding either-sex deer hunting 
days to the muzzle loading season, or 
adding bonus deer for archers via a 
special archery season license, are 
examples of providing additional rec- 
reation without adversely impacting 
the resource. Blackpowder shooters 
harvest less than 1 % of statewide kill 
and bowhunters account for 6Vi%. 

The number of either-sex deer hunt- 
ing days is the most important man- 
agement tool at the disposal of the 
Department. It is the regulatory throt- 
tle used to increase or decrease the 
harvest as needed. 

In fact, in many cases, the failure to 
harvest an adequate number of does 
has placed a tremendous pressure on 
the buck segment of the population. 
For example, in 1986, 54% of the Vir- 



ginia buck harvest was comprised of 
yearling bucks. Almost 75% of the 
bucks in either-sex deer counties are 
yearlings or fawns. Occasionally an 
older buck will survive, but rarely in 
areas with extremely high hunting 
pressure. The lopsided sex ratio that 
results has a definite bearing on the 
following year's population. 

Couple the legal over-harvest of 
bucks with the hunter reluctance to 
shoot does, and you can see that it is 
almost as difficult to keep a deer herd 
sex ratio balanced as it is to keep the 
bluegills fron\ stunting in your pond! 
The solution in both cases is judicious 
harvest of the surplus. With deer, that 
means harvesting bucks and does. 

While over-harvest can occur, this is 
generally not a problem. Hunting pres- 



8 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 



sure in areas with few deer tends to 
drop off when the point of too much 
effort to harvest too few deer is 
approached. On the other hand, efforts 
to increase deer numbers beyond 
recommended levels may be extremely 
counterproductive. In managing deer, 
it is as important to know what not to 
do as well as what to do! 

With the exception of special regu- 
lations for Department-owned or coop- 
eratively managed public hunting lands, 
it is not practical to establish separate 
regulations for different areas within 
the same county. Since most of the 
land in Virginia is in private owner- 
ship, the Department's only option is 
to provide for regulations which, if 
used to full advantage by Virginia 
sportsmen, will help to keep the white- 
tail in health and abundance. 

This is where you as an informed 
sportsman can make a difference. By 
learning what to look for and observ- 
ing conditions in your area, you will be 
in a better position to make harvest 
decisions about deer on the property 
where you hunt. 

There are several things you can do 
to improve your deer hunting. First, if 
you or your club is not already keeping 
harvest records on your deer, then 
start! Invest in a set of reliable scales 
and weigh your deer and keep records 
on the beam diameter of the yearling 
bucks you harvest. Trend data recorded 
over several years can give you an 
excellent indication of any progress in 
producing better quality deer. A sam- 
ple form is provided in this issue to 
assist you in getting started this seson. 
If you do not know how to age deer, 
contact your local biologist and obtain 
a deer aging reference sheet or save 
deer jawbones and let a Game Division 
biologist age these for you. You will 
find Department personnel willing and 
able to assist you with your deer man- 
agement program. Assist the Depart- 
ment by watching for disease and 
report any unusual problems like dead 
deer or sloughing hooves. 

When it comes to harvesting addi- 
tional branched antlered bucks during 
the season, passing (up) the buck, can 
be a self-imposed restriction which can 
make for better deer hunting in future 
years in your area. It is not unlike 



throwing back medium-sized bass to 
increase your chances of taking a trophy 
later. Unfortunately, this idea has not 
yet gained as much acceptance among 
deer hunters as it has with bass fisher- 
men, but the principle is the same! 

However, even with the herd kept in 
"balance" with the range, there are 
many areas now which have a sex ratio 
imbalance and too few bucks in the 
older age classes. Since antlered bucks 
are the most sought after individuals in 
the populations, you, as an individual 
deer hunter or member of a hunt club, 
may wish to consider several manage- 
ment options. 

Keep in mind that maintaining a 
herd at or slightly below the carrying 
capacity means that there may not be 
as many deer as you or I or other deer 
hunters would like to see. But, you are 
not likely to be satisifed with the 
results in the quality department if you 
do not limit quantity. Another factor is 
that the number of antlered bucks in a 
herd is not unlimited and expectations 
about the number of antlered bucks 
that can be produced or harvested 
should be tempered with the fact that 
the statewide antlered buck harvest 
averages 2.68 per square mile of fore- 
sted range. The total deer kill per 
square mile of forest range averages 
4.75 deer. While there are Virginia 
areas with extreme overpopulations of 
deer, an average number of deer across 
the state would be more like one deer 
per 20 acres. 

Consider a "slot limit" on antlered 
bucks which grants protection to 
younger age class bucks sporting small 
4, 6, and 8-point racks. These medium- 
sized bucks have the potential to 
develop given a couple of years growth. 
Feeding trials with captive deer have 
demonstrated that skeletal growth takes 
precedence over antler development in 
the first several years of a buck's life 
and most bucks do not obtain maxi- 
mum size until reaching 4'/2 to 6'/2 years 
of age. 

As mentioned earlier, most bucks 
do not survive long enough to reach 
their potential. Under a slot limit, truly 
large bucks should be harvested and, if 
there is a good buck to doe ratio, there 
is no problem with taking spikes. A 
deer club in one southwestern state 



adopted a policy of not shooting 
branched antlered bucks on 25% of 
their property per season. They divided 
their hunting ground into four com- 
partments and hunted branched ant- 
lered bucks in three of the four zones 
per season. They harvested does and 
spike bucks in every compartment. 
The zone where branched antlered 
bucks were conserved was rotated to a 
new zone every year. After three or 
four years, the club had dramatically 
increased the quality of antlered bucks 
taken on their property. Although they 
were not in a region of their state noted 
for big bucks, they increased the aver- 
age antler beam diameter of their bucks 
to a level comparable to the best 
trophy area in their state. Their plan 
focused on harvesting enough deer to 
maintain good habitat and at the same 
time permitted more bucks to reach 
older age classes needed for the devel- 
opment of larger racks. Deer hunters 
can make a difference, but it takes 
time and commitment. Herds do not 
get out of balance in one or two sea- 
sons of hunting, and it may take four 
or five years to see the benefits of any 
changes. 

Each year, much is said and written 
about our most popular big game 
animal. In this article, we have reviewed 
the basic principles that are used by 
our biologists in making deer man- 
agement recommendations in Virginia. 
In the following articles in this issue, 
other Department biologists discuss 
further the different factors that are 
considered in managing our deer 
resources. Learn what to plant for deer 
in an article written by our wildlife 
forester, Jerry Sims, and see what Biol- 
ogist Mack Walls has to say about the 
trophy herd at Radford Arsenal. Read 
Joe Coggin's review of deer research 
and consider what Don Schwab has 
written about deer damage to both 
crops and cars. Jim Bowman and Jack 
Gwynn take a much closer look at dis- 
ease and parasites and what these mean 
in managing deer. 

Hopefully, this issue will help clear 
up some of the mystery and "hocus 
pocus" feeling about wildlife manage- 
ment. It is a science, but it involves 
choices and decisions. Hopefully, we 
will be able to show you why. D 



NOVEMBER 1987 



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Habitat 



VIRGINIA'S WHITETAILS 



White-tailed deer are likely 
to be found anywhere in 
Virginia. They are found 
in the mature forests, throughout the 
open farm lands, and even in suburbia. 
When given protection from poaching 
and free ranging house dogs, they seem 
to multiply and occupy just about any 
suitable thicket within a wide range of 
habitats. They are adaptable to chang- 
ing conditions, and they have shown 
an amazing ability to coexist and even 
thrive adjacent to man's development. 

Even though the whitetail will often 
multiply and do quite well on its own, 
we know that with proper habitat 
management they can do even better. 
We know that if we can improve the 
habitat, we increase the "carrying 
capacity" or the number and quality of 
deer the land is able to support. Simply 
put, improve the habitat and one can 
grow more deer with larger racks every 
year! 

In order to improve habitat for deer, 
it is important to consider their year- 
round requirements, not just require- 
ments during the few weeks of hunting 
season. It also involves consideration 
for the turkeys, squirrels, songbirds, 
and other animals that share the woods 
with the deer, since habitat develop- 
ment beneficial to one frequently can 
serve the others well. 

The white-tailed deer is often called 
a selective browser; however, its diet 
consists of more than the buds, twigs, 
and leaves that we call browse. In addi- 
tion, its diet is composed of a wide 
array of mast and herbaceous materials, 
mushrooms, and agricultural crops. 

Water requirements for the white- 
tailed deer are partially suppUed by the 
succulent plants which comprise a 
large part of its diet. During much of 




by Jerry Sims 

Wildlife Forester 



Opposite: photo /^y William S. Lea 

the year, its watering requirements are 
minimal; however, sources of water 
should be maintained. A source of 
water should never be farther than one 
half mile away. If water is lacking, 
ponds, or waterholes should be devel- 
oped. 



Food studies show a wide variety of 
foods are utilized in different areas. 
During the fall and the winter, their 
preferred diet consists of mast, ever- 
green browse, and agricultural crops 
when available. Preferred soft mast 
includes dogwood berries, wild grapes 
and other fleshy fruits. Acorns are a 
preferred hard mast and a high value 
food. Where these are available in 
quantity, deer are able to rapidly gain 
weight and store body fat prior to win- 
ter. Mast crops, however, are highly 
variable. It is not uncommon to have a 
total failure of acorns and other mast. 
Fortunately, the white-tailed deer has 
evolved into an animal with an adapta- 
ble diet and can find alternative food 
sources during the fall and winter of an 
acorn failure. Deer are also known to 
survive and even thrive in areas lacking 
abundant mast which have alternate 
food sources. 

Evergreen browse from honeysuckle, 
greenbrier, laurel and rhododendron is 
another important food source during 
fall and winter. These foods are more 
nutritious during this time of the year 
than the hardened-off stems and twigs 
and dry leaves from hardwood shrubs 
and trees. 

New spring growth of shrubs and 
trees, however, result in nutritious 
browse and forage. Then, the deer's 
diet consists of this tender new growth, 
fruits, soft mast, and fungi. As the new 
growth hardens through the summer, 
the whitetail seeks browse off the cur- 
rent annual growth of woody plants, 
herbaceous material, fungi and fruits. 

The body weight and size of a buck's 
antlers are related to the abundance 
and quality of food that is available. A 
yearling buck from a rocky ridge in the 
deep woods of the mountains may 



NOVEMBER 1987 



II 



only have spike antlers and dress out at 
85 pounds, while his corn-fed cousin 
in the valley may sport a 6-point rack 
and weigh in at 100 pounds. A deer is 
what he eats; thus, habitat improve- 
ment increases the carrying capacity of 
the land and improves hunting. 

Increase the available food in an 
area, and deer will be attracted to it. 
They will not come running from miles 
away, but where their home range 
comes close to good habitat, they just 
might move in and stay for hunting 
season. More importantly, the doe that 
winters on a property with an abun- 
dance of food is more likely to produce 
healthy twin or triplet fawns the fol- 
lowing spring. 

Agricultural crops are a highly uti- 
lized food source during a large portion 
of the year. Where available, deer 
enjoy a wide variety of cultivated crops 
such as corn, small grains, pasture, and 
soybeans. Supplemental plantings of 
agricultural crops are often used to 
increase the carrying capacity of the 
land. They are also used to attract deer 
and concentrate them for harvest. 

The Mississippi Department of 
Wildlife Conservation conducted a 
study in 1984 to investigate the value 
of food plots for deer in the Southeast. 
Responses from the questionnaires 
showed that 13 of the 14 state wildlife 
agencies who responded to the survey 
planted deer foods. The survey showed 
wheat, corn, rye grass, ladino clover, 
rye and oats were given the highest 
preference in winter plantings. Pre- 
ferred summer plantings in the survey 
were soybeans, peas, alfalfa, reseeding 
cow peas, and ladino clover. 

The choice of what to plant in a feed 
patch is largely dependent on what will 
grow well in a particular region and 
soil. For best results, plant a crop that 
deer like to eat and that local farmers 
have grown successfully. 

Supplemental plantings can be of 
value in managing a property for deer; 
however, they can also be very expen- 
sive. The cost of plantings can be signif- 
icantly reduced by perennial plantings 
of clover or orchard grass rather than 
costly row cropping. 

Often the manager must be content 
to create suitable habitat conditions at 
lower cost by managing native vegeta- 




Prescrihed burning, u'hen used properly, can increase deer browse suhstantially; 
Department staff photo. 




The quality of deer, including antler devel 
ment, is dependent larf^ely upon its habitat, 
which can he enhanced with the use of modern 
management techniques; photo by William S. 
Lea. 




12 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 



tion. Native vegetation is maintained in 
a variety of productive stages through 
the use of the bush-hog, the chain saw, 
a drum chopper, or other mechanical 
means. Prescribed burning can also be 
used to maintain and improve habitat 
for deer. 

All forestry and agricultural activi- 
ties should be conducted under the 
guidelines of Best Management Praai- 
ces. These are standard, accepted prac- 
tices outlined in publications of the 
Virginia Water Control Board. They 
are guidelines for management practi- 
ces which reduce soil erosion. An 
example of a "BMP" that should be 
followed in regard to timber sales is 
that the skid roads, log landings, and 
other openings created by logging 
should be seeded to a permanent sod. 
This practice is desirable for soil con- 
servation and as a wildlife management 
practice, because while protecting the 
soil from erosion, the grass and other 
vegetation provides food and cover for 
wildlife. 

From a wildlife perspective, mowing 
is usually overused on farms through- 
out Virginia. Too many landowners 
are not satisfied unless their fields and 
pastures are as neat as golf courses. As 
a matter of principle, they mow on an 
annual basis in an attempt to keep their 
pastures free of weeds and woody 
vegetation. To complicate matters 
further, much of this mowing is either 
done during nesting season for ground 
nesting birds such as quail, or during 
the early fall, which allows no time for 
regrowth of valuable food and cover 
prior to winter. In general, habitat can 
be improved with less mowing. 

White-tailed deer habitat improves 
as open areas containing grasses are 
invaded by woody vegetation. Aban- 
doned and overgrown fields are prime 
habitat for deer, since the woody vege- 
tation provides excellent food and 
cover. The bush-hog can be a valuable 
tool in maintaining a portion of your 
property in productive habitat, because, 
if this cover is left alone, the seedlings 
grow into saplings, and will no longer 
be a valuable food source. Manage habi- 
tat so that a portion of "abandoned" 
fields are bush-hogged on an annual 
basis, so that new prime habitat is con- 
stantly growing into prime brushlands. 



If mowing is demanded, ground nest- 
ing birds can be helped by mowing 
during the early spring prior to their 
nesting season. 

Options for reclaiming fields that 
have grown too large to mow include 
the use of a drum chopper pulled by a 
dozer, or by bulldozing with a blade. 
Following drum chopping, the use of 
prescribed fire can be a useful tool to 
help kill the saplings to ground level. 

Cattle compete directly with deer, 
since they eat many of the same foods. 
Thus, the carrying capacity for deer 
can be increased through the removal 
or the reduction in number of cattle 
from the range. Fencing cattle out of a 
woodlot is also good for a forest. 

Coordination of habitat develop- 
ment and timber management can 
often result in improved deer habitat at 
low costs. The chain saw is a very valu- 
able tool in habitat management. 
Through the sale of forest products, 
diversity in the forest can be increased 
with small clearcuts or selective cut- 
tings which open up the overstory and 
increase the amount of deer food near 
the forest floor. Mature trees are 
cropped so that second growth vegeta- 
tion provides food and cover. 

Care must be taken to insure that a 
cutting schedule is developed which 
insures a balance of harvested areas, as 
well as the retention of ample mast- 
producing areas. Generally, a deer's 
range should have at least 20 percent of 
its acreage in forests with oaks old 
enough to produce mast. Of course, 
larger acreages of acorn production are 
desirable, especially if your goal is to 
produce habitat supporting acorn-eat- 
ing turkey or gray squirrels as well as 
deer. 

Mast production can even be in- 
creased through the use of periodic 
thinning on hardwood stands. By care- 
ful selection of the trees to be removed 
from a forest stand, the future compo- 
sition can be influenced to consist of 
the most healthy mast producers 
through the removal of the smaller, 
less healthy, or non-mast-producing 
trees. Thinning in both hardwood and 
pine stands allows sunlight to reach the 
forest floor and stimulates the growth 
of forbs, legumes, and other herbace- 
ous plants. Soft mast producers, such 



as dogwood and grape vines, respond 
to the increased sunlight and growing 
space. In addition, the stump sprouts 
from cut hardwoods provide a source 
of deer browse. 

Heavy deer browsing may reduce or 
even eliminate tree regeneration. The 
elimination of tree regeneration is a 
danger sign indicating an overpopu- 
lated habitat. If there is a "browse line" 
(an obvious demarcation on shrubs 
where the deer are eating below and 
cannot reach above), then the deer are 
eating more than the land is producing. 
The answer to the problem is either 
reduce the number of deer or increase 
the carrying capacity or attempt a 
combination of the two. 

The Virginia Game Department's 
staff of wildlife biologists will help land- 
owners manage wildlife on their prop- 
erties. They are available to develop a 
wildlife management plan that will out- 
line habitat improvements designed to 
complement landowner objectives. 
Phone or write the Virginia Depart- 
ment of Game and Inland Fisheries, at 
4010 West Broad Street, Richmond, 
VA 23230-1104, 804/257-1000 in 
order to receive this valuable service. 

Habitat management is the key to 
increasing the abundance of white- 
tailed deer on your property. Increase 
the carrying capacity through the 
development of the proper blend of 
food and cover, and deer will start 
making tracks on your land. □ 

Resource Publications 

Cadieux, Charles L. Wildlife Manage- 
ment on Your Land: A Practical Owner's 
Manual on How, What, When, and 
Why. Stackpole Books; Harrisburg, 
PA, 1985. 

Halls, Lowell K. White-tailed Deer: 
Ecology and Management. A Wildlife 
Management Institute Book. Stackpole 
Books: Harrisburg, PA 1984. 

Jacobson, H.A., Lunceford, C, and 
Jones, E.J. "Supplemental Food Plant- 
ings for Deer in the Southeastern 
United States." Wildlife and Sport 
Fisheries Management. Mississippi 
State University and the United States 
Department of Agriculture Coopera- 
tive Extension Service. Publication 
No.85-2, May 1985. 



NOVEMBER 1987 



13 



Trophy Deer 



VIRGINIA'S WHITETAILS 



The alarm clock kept buzzing. I 
peered through one eye at it. 
One o'clock in the morning. 
Time for me to roll out if I was to meet 
Al, Dan, Larry, and Bill at 3:00 a.m. for 
the final shotgun hunt of the 1986 
Radford Army Ammunition Plant 
(RAAP) deer hunt. A total of five 
archery hunts and three shotgun hunts 
had been successfully completed, and 
30 hunters would be anxiously await- 
ing the arrival of the Department of 
Game and Inland Fisheries personnel 
so they could have their turn. 

In shortly less than two shakes of a 
lamb's tail, I jumped out of bed, shut 
off that crazy alarm and crawled in the 
shower. Finally awake enough to get 
into a uniform and brave the 20° 
weather, I climbed into my department 
vehicle, and started the long drive to 
RAAP. 

The hunters are always waiting for 
you. Thirty hunters waiting for a big 
ole buck they have dreamed of for 
years. At 3:30 a.m., we start to check 
them in. All the hunters have enough 
food to last a week, enough clothing 
for three people and in some cases 
enough buck lure to float a John boat. 
Not to mention a set of antlers for 
rattling up that big buck. 

The Radford hunt is much more 
restrictive than the average deer hunt, 
but each rule is related to safety and 
trophy deer management. For exam- 
ple, all hunters are restricted to shoot- 
ing from their stands. 

In the 60's, archery hunting was 
permitted at the Dublin storage facil- 
ity, but was discontinued by 1968. 
Since that time, deer numbers have 
been controlled by removing deer for 
translocation to suitable habitat by the 
Department of Game and Inland 
Fisheries. In this effort, mostly does 




by Mack Walls 

Supervising Game Biologist 
Southwest Virginia 



Opposite: Radford Arsenal Bucks; Game 
Department staff photo. 

were removed. As a result, the number 
of quality trophy bucks continued to 
increase. 

Today, there no longer exists a need 
for relocation, and through the coop- 
eration of the commanding officer and 
other RAAP personnel, the VDGIF 
designed and currently administers a 
unique hunting program there. Through 
a dedicated effort by Alan Guthrie, 



Biologist, and Area Supervisors Larry 
Crane, Bill Keffer, Dan Lovelace, Clar- 
ence Stebar, Jim Haulsee, and Dan 
Morehead, deer stands were con- 
structed and the program was put into 
practice in 1985. 

To date, Radford's best trophy deer 
have been 5 Vi to 6V2 years of age. How- 
ever, the first hunt in 1985 resulted in 
the harvest of 59 deer. Only nine does 
were taken. If we had continued at that 
rate, all the big bucks would have been 
taken within a few years, and not 
replaced. After all, it takes time for 
young bucks to develop big racks. 

Therefore, we selected a hunt re- 
striction that would result in the taking 
of an equal number of bucks and does 
and reduce the pressure put on the 
bucks. Each hunter is permitted to take 
any deer prior to 12:00 noon but is 
allowed only antlerless deer for the 
remainder of the day's hunt. This regu- 
lation reduces the pressure on the buck 
segment of the population and puts 
more pressure on the doe portion of 
the population. It allows the bucks to 
remain in the population long enough 
to grow trophy antlers, while regulat- 
ing deer numbers and sex ratio by 
removing the does. Our regulations are 
also designed to remove 75 to 100 deer 
each season to maintain a healthy deer 
population. 

By restricting the time that antlered 
deer may be taken and maintaining a 
50-50 sex ratio, a number of bucks will 
become old {SVi years and older) 
enough to produce quality trophies. 
Though it will never be possible for 
every hunter selected to take a trophy 
buck, most will see a trophy buck (and 
hopefully it will be before 1 2:00 noon). 
The 1986 hunt was conducted under 
the new regulations and resulted in the 
taking of 36 antlerless and 37 antlered 



NOVEMBER 1987 



15 



deer. The hunt resulted in the desired 
removal in numbers and approached a 
50-50 sex ratio. 

In 1985, the success rate for archers 
was 8% and the gun hunters was 48%. 
In 1986, however, the archers were not 
as successful. A total of 15 deer were 
taken. This is only 6% success for the 
250 hunters. The gun hunters bagged 
58 deer during their four hunts for a 
48% success ratio. The total take in the 
1 986 hunts was 22 does and 5 1 bucks. 

This year's antler development was 
poor compared to last year because of 
the drought experienced this past 
summer (see antlered buck chart). The 
habitat on the area consists of grasses 
and some scattered pine plantation. 
Just remember how few times you had 
to mow your lawn last summer. The 
Radford grass suffered too, and as a 
result, weight and antler growth were 
much less. 

A good indicator of poor antler 
development is a high proportion of 
yearling ( 1 '/2-y ears-old) bucks that are 
spikes. The 1985 hunts produced no 
yearling spikes at all. However, of the 
deer taken this year, 28% of the year- 
ling bucks were spikes. 

Another indicator of herd condition 
is the weight of the yearling bucks and 
relative amounts of body fat. By exa- 
mining each deer harvested, the fat on 
the kidneys, heart and intestine, we are 
given a rating which indicates the rela- 
tive condition of the animal. This 
year's data indicates lower fat levels 
and relatively poorer condition in 
comparison to the 1985 data. As an 
example, the average weight of the 1 '/:- 
year-old bucks was 91.3 pounds in 
1985. This year, they averaged 90.3 
pounds. 

The time is now 6:00 a.m. It is cold 
outside and still dark. We allow the 
group to decide if they would like to go 
to their stands now or wait for an addi- 
tional 30 minutes. They opt for the 
warmth of the check station for a few 
minutes longer. 

Department personnel are respon- 
sible for attending 10 hunters. Each 
hunter is checked hourly to see if he 
needs assistance with a deer or if he has 
wounded a deer. The grass and pine 
habitat makes finding a blood trail very 
difficult, especially during the archery 






Top: In order to accomodate hunters, the Gat 
staff built over 50 deer stands, some with handic 
accessibility, for the trophy hunt at Radford. Left: A buck 
rub this size is typical on the Radford Arsenal property. 
Right: Supervising game biologist Mack Walls shows off 
one of the typical trophies bagged during the 1 985 deer hunt 
at Radford; Game Department staff photos. Following 
pages 1 8 and 1 9: Radford Arsenal is one of the few areas 
in the state where hunters can witness bucks fighting from 
their stands; photo by William S. Lea. 



16 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 



Wi 




Radford Andered Buck Harvest 

Number 

ofpoints 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 15 18 Total 

1985 4 ' 1 1 1 4 2 13 7 13 1 1 1 1 50 

1986 10 4 1 2 2 4 4 10 3 2 1 - - - 43 



hunts. 

By the time the last of the hunters 
are placed on their stands, it's finally 
time for breakfast. We can keep up 
with the job as long as we have plenty 
to eat. Even working Thanksgiving is 
bearable when Nana Keffer (Bill's wife) 
appears with a Thanksgiving feast for 
us all. 

We aren't able to rest long, though. 
A shotgun blast spurs us into action. 
We will have very little time to relax 
until dark. A single shot usually means 
a deer has been taken, but three shots 
in rapid succession suggest the hooves 
have carried the trophy away and the 
hunter is ready to go home. Being 
limited to three 00 buck shotgun shells 
12 gauge or larger, each hunter must 
leave the plant when his ammunition is 
spent. The three-shot limit is imposed 
so that each hunter hopefully will 
select "good" shots and keep crippling 
losses to a minimum. So far, so good, 
for the shotgunners. 

The first deer is delivered to the 
check station at 8:30 a.m., a nice IVi 
year-old 8-point buck taken from stand 
#36. The hunter was grinning Hke a 
mule eating briars. With only slight 
amounts of fat on its internal organs, 
the buck weighed 161 pounds. 

This was just the beginning of the 
day that resulted in 13 deer (five does 
and eight bucks) being brought to the 
check station for examination. 

But the deer checked in don't tell the 
whole story of the hunt. In 1985, 
1 ,396 deer were seen by the 59 hunters 
who took deer home. That is 24 deer 
per man. 107 shots were fired with 59 
deer taken. The 1986 hunters who 
took a deer saw 1,650 deer or 23 deer 
per man, took 122 shots and believed 
they hit 77 deer. 

Of course, many of the hunters told 
us even more, and some of their stories 
are simply unbelievable. They talk 
about this buck with a rocking chair 
for antlers, that buck with a brush pile 



on his head and how they can't believe 
there are that many big bucks out there. 

As the day draws to an end, and the 
last hunters are checked out, they all 
want to know the size of the biggest 
deer taken. In 1985, the largest deer 
taken was a 15-point, 6V^2-year-old 
buck weighing 231 pounds. An 18- 
point, 6!/2-year-old was also taken by 
an archer, but weighed 177 pounds. 

The deer taken in the 1986 were not 
as big as the 1985 deer — but they were 
still nice trophies. The scales were 
topped by a 10-point, 4'/2-year-old 
buck at 181 pounds whole. Also, an 
1 1 -point, 4'/2-year-old buck weighed 
in at 1 34 pounds. It is believed that the 
current regulations will continue to 
produce deer of this quality. 

After reviewing the hunt regulations 
with the staff and the personnel at 
R A AP, it was decided to add two addi- 
tional regulations this year. The first 
regulation change will require archery 
hunters to qualify before hunting. The 
bow hunter must be able to hit a nine- 
inch paper plate at 20 and at 30 yards 
with two of three arrows from a stand 
elevated to a height of 14 feet. Hope- 
fully, this will better prepare the 
selected archers for hunting on the 
plant and increase their success. The 
second regulation change will require 
selected hunters to sit out a year before 
being eligible to apply for the RAAP 
hunt again. This new regulation should 
give more sportsmen the privilege of 
hunting at Radford. 

As the skies grew dark and the last 
hunter was checked out, another year 
of hunting at Radford ended. The last 
remaining hunter walked over to me, 
shook my hand and said: "I wasn't 
lucky enough to take a trophy buck, 
but it has been the hunt of a lifetime. I 
just wanted you to know that you're all 
appreciated for making it possible." 

It's amazing how the simplest things 
can make all the effort seem worth- 
while. □ 



NOVEMBER 1987 



17 



J 



■/y 




- >* \ r A4; 






7 f • 



/-' //> 



7- fy\JL\ 



m^ 



\mam^ 



Research 



VIRGINIA'S WHITETAILS 



The questions seem endless: 
What should the season length 
be? What about bag hmits? Do 
we have too many deer? Too few? Are 
they healthy? And on and on and on. If 
we don't already know the answers, 
the questions require research. 

Deer research in Virginia is specifi- 
cally designed to supply data for mak- 
ing management recommendations and 
decisions. Thus, Virginia has an estab- 
lished system designed to monitor deer 
herd physical conditions at various 
check stations, usually located in areas 
where deer populations are high. The 
number of check stations varies from 
year to year. Usually there are 25 to 30 
west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and 
approximately 10 stations east of the 
Blue Ridge. The people who collect 
data at these stations are Department 
personnel trained to weigh, determine 
sex and age of the animals, make antler 
measurements, and examine for any 
evidence of diseases and external paras- 
ites. All stations in Virginia examined 
6, 87 1 deer in 1 986. This is 5.6 percent 
of the 1986 harvest of 121,801 deer. 
A very interesting thing has been 
learned from analysis of the trend 
information derived from check sta- 
tion data. Several years ago, a biologist 
noticed that when the percent of does 
in the total harvest reached 35% or 
above, the total kill in subsequent years 
began to decline, indicating a reduction 
in the deer herds. The kill would 
increase if the percent of does was less 
than 30 to 35%. This is not always true 
in every county, but generally speak- 
ing, this information helps us to make a 
decision as to how many "doe days' to 
recommend for the hunting season. 

It must be understood that this rule 
is not the sole criteria for setting a sea- 
son. It must be backed up with other 




by Joe Coggin 

Supervising Wildlife Research 

Biologist 

Western Region 



Opposite: photo by William S. Lea. 

information. For example, in our anal- 
ysis of check station data, we place a 
great deal of emphasis on the yearling 
buck ( 1 '/: years) segment of the herd. 



A high percentage of spikes (50% or 
more), coupled with low averages of 
hog-dressed weights of less than 80 
pounds and less than 40% fawns in the 
harvest, would indicate a nutritional 
problem, possibly too many deer for 
the amount of food available. 

Thus, we also monitor deer habitat 
from year to year to get some idea on 
the amount of food available to deer in 
a particular area. Virginia's system for 
monitoring the mast crop is to have 
each wildlife management area super- 
visor sample the mast production on 
80 selected oak trees on his work area. 
Forty of the trees are sampled in the 
white oak group and 40 in the black 
oak group. All trees of mast bearing age 
located along a road are permanently 
marked. Twenty more trees in each 
plot are located on each side of a 
mountain or hill, and another plot of 
20 trees are marked in the valley, to 
insure a sampling of each altitude and 
exposure. The mast sample is taken by 
randomly selecting 10 branches from 
each tree and counting the acorns on 
the outer 24" of each branch. Then we 
calculate the average production of 
white oaks, black oaks, and combined 
for each unit, region, and statewide. 

This mast crop information is very 
helpful in understanding some of the 
deer weights and other measurements. 
It also helps to analyze data collected 
on other species such as squirrel pro- 
duction and bear harvest. 

Yearly variations in weather also 
influence our recommendations for 
hunting seasons. For example, if we 
have cold, heavy rain or inclement 
weather on the opening day of the sea- 
son, and especially during the days at 
the end of the season when doe deer 
may be taken, the total kill may drop 
severely and the percent of does in the 



NOVEMBER 1987 



21 



harvest may be altered. Daily weather 
data is recorded by western biologists 
and analyzed at the close of the season 
it relates to the deer kill in each 



as 



county. 

Sometimes, we run short of person- 
nel or expertise to gather the informa- 
tion we need to make responsible 
management decisions, especially when 
we get stumped on an unusual situa- 
tion, or a special, unexpected condi- 
tion crops up. For example. Wise 
County has had a "bucks only" season 
for years. We know from previous 
data that reproduction has not been 
what it should be, and we want to 
increase the number of deer in that 
county. Since we were unable to 
determine the limiting factors to our 
satisfaction, it was decided to do an 
intensive research study to determine 
the nutritional factors influencing deer 
physiology on the High Knob Wildlife 
Management Area in the county. The 
study is funded by the Department of 
Game and Inland Fisheries, but is con- 
tracted to VPI &. SU through their 
Wildlife Unit. 

Conducted by graduate student, H.J. 
Dutton under the direction of Dr. Roy 
Kirkpatrick, the study involves a tho- 
rough analysis of the nutritional status 
of the deer herd through analysis of 
soil, vegetation and deer characteristics 
to see if nutritional factors play a major 
role in the poor population of High 
Knob. Data collected on High Knob is 
being compared with the same data 
collected on the Stoney Creek Wildlife 
Management Area in Giles County, 
which serves as a control for the study. 
As a result, researchers have concluded 
that deer on High Knob have been 
living on a lower nutritional regime 
than those in many parts of the state, 
especially during the winter months. 

Another study which is being par- 
tially funded by the Department of 
Game and Inland Fisheries, is an inten- 
sive investigation into the extent of 
Lyme disease in Virginia's wildlife. 
Since humans may become infected 
with the disease, this research is a high 
priority for us. Lyme disease is caused 
by a spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, 
which is transmitted by ticks of the 
genus Ixodes, and it is possible that 
other blood sucking arthropods may 




Game Dwision personnel are trained in laboratory techniques to collect infornm- 
tion that may help them determine the health arul quality of a deer herd; Game 
Departmera staff photo. 



22 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 




also transmit this agent. So, Robert 
Turner, under the direction of Dr. 
D.E. Sonenshire of Old Dominion 
University, is conducting a three-year 
study which is designed to collect suffi- 
cient numbers of serum samples and 
tick specimens from representative 
Virginia wildlife to evaluate the possi- 
bility that Lyme disease is an estab- 
lished disease in this state. The Depart- 
ment will assist with the collection of 
the blood samples and tick specimens 
as is needed. 

There are other aspects of animal 
diseases in which pesticide poisoning 
may play a role. Animals that are sus- 
pected of having died or become sick 
due to pesticide poisoning are taken to 
the College of Veterinary Medicine at 
VPI &. SU. There they are necropsied 
to determine cause of death or illness. 
If the cause is not determined, various 
tissues are tested for pesticide poison- 
ing. So far, no deer have been shown to 



have died from pesticide ingestion. 

Deer damage to agricultural crops is 
another phase of research conducted 
by the Game Department with the 
indispensable help of other experts in 
the field. Every year we keep trying 
something new or different to repel 
deer from agricultural crops. We have 
tried tankage, egg sprays, red pepper 
spray, bone meal, hinder, lion urine, 
human hair, and many other concoc- 
tions to repel deer. It seems that almost 
anything will work for a short period 
of time, but deer adapt well and will 
eventually continue browsing, espe- 
cially after a rain washes away repellent 
sprays. Fences built at a 45° angle will 
work, but fences are expensive if large 
areas are to be controlled. Even electric 
fences with three strands placed 18" 
apart are expensive for large farms, but 
our research indicates that damage 
may be reduced about 95% by this 
method. 



Dr. R.E. Byers of VPI &. SU, sta- 
tioned at the Winchester Fruit Labora- 
tory in Winchester, Virginia is pre- 
sently doing deer repellent research 
with Lifebouy soap and other per- 
fumes. He is trying to determine the 
ingredient in the soap that acts as a 
repellent to deer. The idea is to develop 
a reasonably priced spray to use in 
orchards, and anywhere else where 
deer damage is a problem. The study 
shows promise at the present time, and 
the Department of Game and Inland 
Fisheries is cooperating with Dr. Byers 
with a partial funding of the study. 

Deer research in Virginia is a coop- 
erative effort, performed by Depart- 
ment staff, universities and other agen- 
cies, all with a common goal. Our 
research is directed towards under- 
standing more about white-tailed deer 
in Virginia so that we, as the agency 
responsible for wildlife populations in 
the state, can better manage them. D 



NOVEMBER 1987 



23 



Damage 



VIRGINIA'S WHiIblAlLS 



If your are a farmer trying to grow a 
crop, a homeowner protecting 
ornamental shrubs, or a motorist 
driving on one of Virginia's rural roads, 
an encounter with the whitetail can be 
costly. With over 120,000 being har- 
vested last year and an estimated state- 
wide population of 600,000, the white- 
tailed deer is Virginia's number one big 
game animal. The whitetail also ranks 
as one of the biggest causes of wildlife 
related damage to human resources. 

Deer can be found in almost every 
locality in Virginia from Dulles Inter- 
national Airport runways, south to the 
Dismal Swamp and west till one runs 
into Tennessee, Kentucky and West 
Virginia. 

But the most common complaint 
received from the citizens of the state 
concerning the whitetail usually in- 
volves some kind of farmer /deer con- 
flict. The problems that deer can cause 
a farmer range from browsing on 
crops, to walking on prepared plant 
bedding areas, to rubbing trees. The 
type and extent of damage varies from 
locality to locality and depends heavily 
on the overall density of deer within 
any given location and seasonal factors. 

Early nibbling on plants just emerg- 
ing can have more of an effect on pro- 
duction than browsing occurring later 
in the age of the plant. Weather is 
another factor that can affect damage. 
Extremely dry conditions reduce plant 
growth, and any browsing by deer will 
have greater impact on an already 
stressed crop. 

Crop Damage 

Row crops account for the majority 
of complaints received by the Depart- 
ment of Game and Inland Fisheries 




by Don Schwab 

District Wildlife Biologist 
Southeastern Virginia 



Opposite: Game Dclxirtmcnt photo. 



involving damage by deer. Damage 
occurs most often in small fields sur- 
rounded by woodlands or on the edges 
of large fields adjacent to wooded 
cover. 

The whitetail browses field crops for 
basically two reasons: 1) the crop is 
more attractive to the deer than its 
natural foods, or 2) the crop is the only 
available food. Deer prefer vegetation 
that grows on fertile soils. Since most 
agricultural crops are heavily fertilized, 
they are more attractive to the whitetail. 

Row crops damaged in Virginia by 
whitetails include soybeans, alfalfa, 
peanuts, watermelons and tomatoes, 
just to mention the yearly regulars. If 
deer densities are high where these 
crops are grown, total loss of the crop 
can occur. However, usually the crops 
are damaged at much lower levels. 

Soybeans are the mosc commonly 
damaged row crop in the state, and the 
Game Division during the 1983, '84 
and '85 growing seasons conducted 
studies that simulated deer browse on 
this crop. The findings of this three- 
year study showed that if the plant can 
get to approximately two weeks of age, 
browsing of 33-67% of the new growth 
at weekly intervals had little effect on 
the production of the plant. If the plant 
could be protected until it was three to 
four weeks old, at the same level of 
browsing, it actually produced more 
beans than the control plants which 
were totally protected. It was also 
found that whitetail use of soybean 
fields was reduced after the plants were 
five weeks old. 

A pilot study related to peanuts 
which was conducted in the southeast- 
ern corner of the state, showed that 
equipment used to harvest the crop 



NOVEMBER 1987 



25 



can leave more peanuts in the field than 
the deer damage by either browsing or 
pawing of the crop. Alfalfa crops on 
the other hand, are damaged not only 
by the browsing of the animals, but 
also by the deer using the fields as bed- 
ding areas. When the deer bed down in 
an area, the vegetation is crushed, and 
either is broken and dies, or the crown 
of the plant is to low for the farmer's 
machinery to fully harvest the crop. 

On the Eastern Shore, where pro- 
duce such as tomatoes, green beans 
and cucumbers are common crops, the 
whitetail also causes trouble. Tomato 
fields are readied for planting by cover- 
ing the rows with black plastic and 
fumigating to eliminate nematodes. 
Deer walk on these plastic-covered 
rows, puncturing the black covering 
with their hooves. Why a deer would 
rather walk on plastic than on the dirt 
separating the plastic covered rows, 
especially at a time when the field is 
devoid of food, has all of us stumped. 

Orchard Damage 

Some other areas of agriculture that 
suffer from high deer numbers are 
orchards and tree farms. Fruit trees less 
than three years of age that are browsed 
by deer when most terminal buds of 
the major branches are available to the 
animal can result in mortality or 
reduced production. Dwarf and semi- 
dwarf fruit trees are extremely suscep- 
tible to terminal bud loss, since more 
branches are within reach of deer for a 
longer period of time. Whitetails also 
rub trees, during the hardening of 
antlers in late summer and early fall 
when the velvet is being removed from 
the buck's rack. This rubbing removes 
the bark of the tree and can kill the tree 
by girdling, or allow for entrance of 
diseases that can reduce production or 
kill the trees. Ripe fruit is also a food 
that the whitetail can't seem to get 
enough of. Even when natural foods 
are plentiful, a deer will go out of its 
way to browse on and knock down 
ripe apples, cherries and peaches. 

Forest Damage 

Though not a common complaint in 
Virginia, deer do cause some problems 
with forest production. When damage 
does occur, it usually is when the 
animal removes the terminal bud from 





c: -* " ~ 








■C\, .^:\". ';'■"" •^" ■- 

• . .. ■ ' ■■ ''"\'r 



Supervising wildlife research, biologist Jack 
Gwynn (far right) and hlational Zoo employee 
Linwood Williamson (right) survey a fence 
designed to keep deer out of an area; Game 
Department photo. 



seedling pines. The loss of this bud 
results in odd-shaped trees that aren't 
as marketable for saw timber. Christ- 
mas tree plantations are becoming more 
popular for many Virginians, and 
whitetail browse damage to these are 
caused by removing the terminal buds. 
The result? Deformed Christmas trees 
with little or no market value. 

Collisions 

The conflicts/damage discussed to 
this point occur outside our cities, and 
are thought of mostly as occurring to 
the farmer or forester. The whitetail, 
however, does occur within our cities, 
and problems usually have something 
to do with man and deer coming 
together with a thud. 

Dulles International Airport in North- 
ern Virginia has trouble with deer 
strolling across the runways in front of 
200-plus people on a Boeing 747. The 
deer have to cross the paths of these 



planes to reach the nicely mowed and 
fertilized grass strips separating the var- 
ious runways and taxiways. In Chesa- 
peake, a whitetail and a small single 
engine plane had a run-in several years 
ago. Luckily no one was physically 
hurt; however, the plane was a total 
loss and the airport had to spend thou- 
sands of dollars placing a deer-proof 
fence around the airport. Another 
problem that is common where deer 
densities are high, is the deer /auto col- 
lision. In 1985, Virginia reported 2, 108 
deer /vehicle collisions resulting in 167 
persons injured. These accidents to- 
talled an estimated $2. 1 million in 
property damage. 

Damage Control Techniques 

Deer damage is a symptom of over- 
population, but there are techniques 
available to reduce if not eliminate 
some forms of damage. Among these 
are several chemical repellents mar- 
keted to keep deer from feeding on 
crops. Repellents, however, have a 
tendency to be effective sometimes, 
and have little or no effect at others. 
The time of application of the repellent 
can determine if it will be effective. 
Some chemicals must be applied prior 
to deer feeding on the crop, and others 
can only be applied several weeks prior 
to harvest, for consumer protection. 
Whatever the case, the chemicals 
themselves cost individuals time, fuel, 
and equipment, and farmers today 
need to save every cent they can. 

Tankage (animal residue from a 
slaughter house) is less expensive than 
most chemicals and can be placed 
along edges of fields, and will keep deer 
out of fields — sometimes. 

Though not economical for row 
crops (because of expense), orchards, 
nurseries and airports can be protected 
from deer damage by deer-proof fen- 
ces, which can cost as much as $3.75/ 
ft. and a litde as $0.40/ft. 

But, you get what you pay for, as far 
as protection from deer is concerned. 
Scare devices, such as propane guns 
and noise bombs or shells are effective 
for a while, but like repellents, require 
time to set up and move as the animals 
become accustomed to their presence 
in the fields. 

Another method that is used in Vir- 
ginia are crop damage permits that 



26 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 




Since crop damage by deer is a symptom of oi'erpopulatior\, the solution lies in regidating deer numbers; photo by William S. Lea. 



allow the farmer to shoot the animals 
during the growing season, if damage 
can be shown. But, the crop damage 
permitting system requires the time of 
Game Department personnel, and the 
time of the farmer at a period when he 
has many other things to do. Plus, the 
permits often cause hard feelings among 
the people who hunt the animals dur- 
ing the regular season. 

In the book Agriculture and Wildlife 
Management, A. Moen states "Wildlife 
damage control is best accomplished 
by preventive measures rather than 
remedial ones." The best method to 
keep deer damage down to levels that 
are at least tolerable to the landowner, 
is through the management of deer 
populations. To date, the most eco- 
nomical way to manage deer numbers 
is through sport hunting. Hunting pro- 



vides many days of recreation to Virgi- 
nians, and can also be a way for a 
farmer to receive a monetary return on 
hunting rights by leasing his land to 
sportsmen's groups. 

An example of deer management to 
reduce damage is illustrated in Sou- 
thampton County. Southampton is 
always one of the top five deer harvest 
counties in the state; it also has had 
some of the highest number of crop 
damage permits issued, simply because 
it has too many deer for the area to 
support. 

In the past, 350-450 deer were taken 
during the summer on crop damage 
permits. In 1985, however, the total 
taken on such permits was 200 anim- 
als. In 1986 only 49 deer were taken. 
The population of deer in Southamp- 
ton County is coming back into bal- 



ance with its habitat, not because of the 
damage permits, but chiefly because of 
the liberalization of bag limits in the 
county, and the acceptance of regula- 
tions by deer hunters. With an increase 
in the number of legal deer that can be 
taken during the season, along with a 
stipulation that one of the deer taken 
must be antlerless, the population of 
deer in the county is approaching a 
healthy level. The harvesting of does 
not only helps reduce the number of 
animals within a population, but helps 
to improve the quality of the herd in 
general. 

In summary, there will always be 
some deer damage, but it can be 
reduced if we Virginians use recog- 
nized wildlife management techniques 
to maintain healthy whitetail popu- 
lations. □ 



NOVEMBER 1987 



27 



eer nen 



he Abomasal Parasite Count, 
( APC) is defined by the South- 
eastern Cooperative Wildlife 
Disease Study (SCWDS) as the aver- 
age number of abomasal parasites from 
five or more adult deer collected from 
a specific deer population within one 
month, preferably during late summer 
or early fall. 

The APC technique was developed 
by SCWDS, an organization estab- 
hshed in 1957 by the Southeastern 
Association of Fish & Wildlife Agen- 
cies, and comprised of wildife disease 
specialists. Funded by 13 cooperating 
southeastern states as well as by the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the 
Animal and Plant Health Inspection 
Service, SCWDS is equipped to travel 
to any area within 48 hours to investi- 
gate die-offs of wild animals. . 

APC History 

One of the first jobs tackled by 
SCWDS was to define the characteris- 
tics of a normal healthy deer herd. To 
accomplish this, SCWDS went to each 
of the 13 southeastern states, necrop- 
sying 10 deer from various kinds of 
deer range. During a necropsy, SCWDS 
technicians literally turn a deer inside 
out to examine every organ and struc- 
ture. They examined deer from areas 
with an abundance of nutritious food, 
and they looked at deer from "browsed 
out" ranges. It was during these exami- 
nations that the number of abomasal 
stomach worms were observed to vary 
in relation to the nutritional health of 
the deer. Fat and healthy deer were 
found to have few stomach worms, 
while thin and undernourished deer 
had many, sometimes extreme numbers 
of stomach worms. 

SCWDS scientists conducted their 
original research to determine whether 
APC/deer relationships could be used 
as an indicator of deer health, and 
learned that deer that do not get 
enough to eat are less resistant to para- 
sitic infections than well fed animals. If 
deer numbers exceed the capacity of an 
area to support them, then their physi- 
cal condition is reduced and the trans- 



by Jack Gwynn 

upervising Wildlife Reses 

Eastern Region 

Biologist 



mission rate of parasitic worms is 
increased. 

APC Parasite Biology 

The parasites have direct life cycles. 
The adult worms, which live in the 
abomasum, produce eggs that are 
passed in the deer's droppings. The 
eggs rapidly develop into first-stage 
larvae. These larvae undergo two addi- 
tional molts and become third-stage 
infective larvae within one to three 
weeks. The infective larvae are then 
eaten by deer along with low growing 
vegetation and undergo two additional 
molts within the abomasum before 
becoming adults. Abomasal parasites, 
except for a large stomach worm called 
Haemonchus contortus, are relatively 
harmless and do not typically cause 
diseases in deer. 

How APCs Work 

A ruminant stomach, similar to 
sheep or cattle, has four compartments: 
1) the rumen (paunch); 2) the reticu- 
lum (honeycomb); 3) the omasum 
(book); 4) the abomasum (true or 
gastric stomach). In an APC, only 
abomasal contents are collected. Abo- 
masums are obtained as soon as possi- 
ble after death. 

A 50 ml sample of abomasum con- 
tents is examined under a 7 to 30- 
power dissecting microscope by pour- 
ing small amounts of the sample into a 
series of gridded petti dishes. 

All worms similar in size to adult 
Trichostongylus (small stomach worms) 
are removed and counted, and the dish 
is passed to a co-worker who checks 
the dish a second time for missed 
worms. 

When to Make APC Collections 

Summer deer collections require 
considerable manpower and are expen- 
sive to conduct. In addition, hunters 
sometimes object to late summer deer 



collections. State game departments 
could save money and have better pub- 
lic relations by doing APC's on hunter- 
killed deer which are taken during the 
legal fall season. However, the period 
of midsummer to early fall is the 
appropriate time to conduct APC's in 
the Southeast. Why? 

One of the reasons was discovered 
when Canadian biologists found third 
stage larvae, eaten by deer during cold 
weather, molted to fourth stage, but 
then entered a period of dormancy in 
the abomasal wall rather than develop- 
ing into adults. The dormancy ended 
in the spring when the larvae matured 
and continued their summer cycle of 
transmission. 

Plus, many deer die-offs that 
SCWDS and VDGIF biologists have 
investigated have occurred in the 
summer. A clue to the reason for this 
was found when necropsy findings 
indicated that summer is a difficult 
time for deer. The necropsies showed 
deer with little fat stored in the body 
cavities and bone marrow fat percen- 
tages extremely low, indicating poor 
nutrition. 

Late summer, which appears to have 
bountiful forage, probably has less 
nutrients to offer deer than appears. 
Southeastern deer managers seem to 
be finding that mid- to late summer is a 
season when the nutritional capacity of 
the habitat is at a low level. 

Summary 

Because the quality of deer habitat is 
ever-changing, as are the number of 
deer in an area, APC's provide a valua- 
ble snapshot of how well a habitat is 
supporting its population of deer at a 
particular point in time. If APC's are 
high, it alerts the wildlife manager that 
the habitat cannot support its current 
number of deer and keep them all 
healthy. It does not necessarily tell us 
that a place isn't a good one for deer, 
but it does tell us that there are too 
many deer for the place to handle. In 
other words, the food may be good, 
but there just isn't enough of it for the 
number of deer trying to share it. Q 



28 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 



M 



Disease 



VIRGINIA'S WHITETAILS 



The study of wildlife diseases 
and parasites is extremely com- 
plex. It has been only during 
recent decades that scientists have suc- 
cessfully isolated and identified many 
of the microscopic entities that infect 
wild animals. Although much has been 
learned about these infectious agents, 
much remains a mystery. 

The white-tailed deer is subject to 
infection by a wide array of parasites, 
bacteria and viruses. There are literally 
hundreds of genera and species of 
microorganisms and parasites that can 
infect deer. Many of these infections 
result in no obvious clinical evidence 
of disease or sickness. Other infec- 
tions, however, may cause disease and 
even death and may quickly spread 
throughout local populations. 

Parasites 

Perhaps most familiar among the 
variety of parasites that infect deer are 
ticks. Four species that are most com- 
monly encountered on deer in Virginia 
are the lone-star tick (Amhlyomma ame- 
ricanum), the wood tick (Dermacentor 
albipictus), and two species of deer tick 
(Ixodes dammini and J. scapularis). Heavy 
infestations of ticks can result in ane- 
mia, weight loss, and even death. Infes- 
tations are usually much less severe, 
but still cause stress due to blood loss, 
secondary skin infections, and disease 
transmission. 

And ticks not only spread disease 
among deer and other wildlife, but 
they can transmit disease to humans as 
well. The public is generally aware of 
the risk of contracting Rocky Moun- 
tain spotted fever from the bite of an 
infected wood tick. There is an addi- 
tional threat to humans by a more 
recently identified bacteria (Borrelia 
burgdorferi) that may be transmitted by 
the deer tick. The resultant illness 




by Jim Bowman 

Supervising Game Biologist 
Piedmont Virginia 



caused by this bacteria was first identi- 
fied in Lyme, Connecticut in 1976, 
and was named Lyme Disease. Like 
spotted fever, Lyme Disease can have 



serious implications, but can be treated 
successfully with antibiotics if detected 
early. 

Another parasite that sometimes 
causes alarm when observed by an 
unsuspecting deer hunter is the larvae 
of the bot fly (Cepherxomyia spp.). 
These occur when the adult fly depos- 
its small larvae in the nostrils of the 
deer. The larvae develop in size and 
migrate into the nasal passages. They 
are later expelled and molt into an 
adult fly. These nasal bots apparently 
pose little threat to the deer and do not 
impair the quality of the deer flesh for 
human consumption. 

Helminths comprise a large group of 
internal parasites that also infect white- 
tailed deer. These include a variety of 
worm-like creatures, some of which 
have rather complex life cycles involv- 
ing other animal hosts for certain stages 
of development. Otherwise healthy 
deer usually can tolerate light infesta- 
tions of these parasites with apparently 
little or no ill effects. Although some 
helminth parasites are fairly common 
in deer, they do not render the meat 
unsafe for handling or human con- 
sumption. 

Among the more prominent hel- 
minths that are sometimes encoun- 
tered in Virginia deer are meningeal or 
brain worms (Parelaphostrongylus ten- 
uis), lungworms (Dictyocaulus spp.), 
and liver flukes (Fascioloides magna). 
One study indicated that 73% of deer 
sampled in seven western Virginia 
counties were infected with meningeal 
worms. Although the adult stage of the 
meningeal worm inhabits the surface 
of the brain, the lungs are usually the 
site of development of the first larval 
stage. It is interesting to note that other 
North American deer species (ie. mule, 
deer, elk, moose and caribou) are 
highly susceptible to infection and 



NOVEMBER 1987 



29 



neurological damage by the meningeal 
worm, while the white-tailed deer is 
quite tolerant of this parasite. 

In the case of lungworms, both lar- 
vae and adults are found in the lungs. 
Although light infestations usually do 
not cause clinical illness, large numbers 
of larvae and adults in the lungs may 
cause pneumonia or other compli- 
cations. 

The liver fluke is so named because 
it occurs almost exclusively in the liver. 
These are rather grotesque in appear- 
ance, with the liver-colored adults more 
than two inches in length and some- 
what the shape of a flat bean. White- 
tailed deer are apparently capable of 
tolerating this parasite, usually with lit- 
tle ill effect. The range of occurrence in 
Virginia is primarily the lowlands of 
the coastal plain. 

Finally, a review of important deer 
parasites would not be complete with- 
out mentioning stomach worms. This 
group of tiny nemotodes occurs in the 
fourth chamber, or abomasum, of the 
deer's ruminant stomach and are 
harmless when present at levels com- 
monly encountered. During the 1970's, 
wildlife disease specialists noticed that 
the abundance of abomasal parasites 
appeared to be related to deer herd 
density and herd health status. (See 
accompanying article. ) They found that 
abomasal parasites were more abun- 
dant in deer herds that had grown 
beyond the ability of their habitat to 
provide a high quality year-round food 
supply. This finding led to develop- 
ment of a deer herd evaluation proce- 
dure called the Abomasal Parasite 
Count (APC). Wildlife biologists can 
use the APC along with other data, 
such as annual harvest data, to monitor 
the health status of deer herds. The 
APC is yet another valuable tool that 
contributes to our ability to implement 
sound wildhfe management principles 
in managing Virginia's white-tailed 
deer. 

Bacterial and Viral Diseases 

A large number of bacteria and vi- 
ruses are capable of causing disease in 
deer. Fortunately, most play a rela- 
tively minor role. An ongoing study 
designed to screen samples of blood 
taken from Virginia deer and other 
wildlife species indicates that deer are 






Skin fibromas in deer is a rather rare physical corxdition that usually does not 
cause illness in deer or affect the quality of deer meat; photo by Roy Edwards. 



A sloughing hoof is an indication of hemor- 
rhagic disease, an often devastating illness in 
deer that can reach epidemic proportions in 
ox'er populated deer herds; photo courtesy of 
SCWDS. 




30 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 



occasionally exposed to diseases such 
as leptospirosis and tularemia. Both of 
these bacterial infections apparently 
cause little or no ill effects in the deer. 
Other diseases such as rabies, brucello- 
sis, and salmonellosis can result in clin- 
ical illness or death but are uncommon 
in deer in Virginia. 

An unusual physical condition of 
deer, however, that often causes some 
alarm by observers is the presence of 
cutaneous, or skin fibromas. Probably 
occurring in less than two percent of 
deer, fibromas are virus-induced wart- 
like growths that are attached to the 
skin. They usually occur on the head, 
neck or shoulder region. Fibromas 
may occasionally grow as large as eight 
inches in diameter (the size of a very 
large grapefruit), but are usually 
smaller. A typical infection may result 
in a half-dozen growths of small to 
moderate size, but much greater num- 
bers can occur. Although rather gross 
in appearance, fibromas usually do not 
cause clincial illness or otherwise inter- 
fere with the deer's activities. In fact, it 
has been reported that many of the 
growths eventually regress and slough 
off. In rare instances the growths may 
occur in sufficient quantity or size to 
interfere with vision, breathing, food 
intake, or mobility. There have been 
no reported cases of human infection 
with deer fibroma virus. Furthermore, 
cutaneous fibromas are attached only 
to the skin and do not affect the quality 
of deer meat for human consumption. 

Hemorrhagic Disease 

Some disease agents do have devas- 
tating impacts on Virginia's deer. 
Reported die-offs among deer in the 
Southeast have occurred sporadically 
since the early years of this century. 
For many years these occurrences were 
apparently rare and localized geogra- 
phically, but at that time deer herds 
also were not widely distributed. As 
deer herds expanded rapidly during the 
1940's and 1950's, reports of die-offs 
increased in frequency and distribu- 
tion. 

A causative agent of the mysterious 
deer die-offs was not confirmed until 
1955 when about 700 deer, with 
symptoms similar to earlier cases else- 
where, succumbed in New Jersey. At 
that time a virus was isolated and 



named Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease 
Virus (EHD). A very similar and 
closely related virus, Bluetongue Virus 
(BT), has also since been indentified 
and produces symptoms in deer virtu- 
ally identical to EHD. Either collec- 
tively or individually, these two viruses 
cause hemorrhagic disease (HD) in 
white-tailed deer. 

A disease transmitted by biting gnats 
(Culicoides spp.), hemorrhagic disease 
usually occurs in late summer and early 
autumn. Conditions are favorable for 
hatching large numbers of these biting 
gnats following late summer rains. An 
HD outbreak may continue until frost 
eliminates this vector, usually in Oc- 
tober. 

The disease may manifest itself sud- 
denly and cause death within 24 hours. 
More often, however, infected deer 
may live several days before succumb- 
ing to HD or other complications. In 
fact, significant numbers of deer appar- 
ently fully recover from the disease. 
Hemorrhagic disease is characterized 
by extensive internal hemorrhaging or 
bleeding of many tissues and organs. 
Externally, the membranes around the 
eyes and in the mouth may be inflamed 
and hemorrhagic, and blood may be 
visible in feces and urine. The mouth 
and tongue may be ulcerated and the 
tongue may be swollen. The disease 
may be accompanied by a high fever, 
and infected deer often seek water. 
Consequently, dead deer are commonly 
found in or near streams. Tissue dam- 
age in the feet may result in sloughing 
or splitting hooves, a characteristic 
which is sometimes observed by hun- 
ters on "recovered" animals later in the 
year. 

Hemorrhagic disease displays vary- 
ing degrees of severity and may result 
in heavy or apparently very low rates of 
mortality. It does not pose a human 
health hazard, and properly cooked 
meat from a "recovered" deer may be 
safely consumed. 

HD may infect wild and domestic 
ruminants. Cattle, goats and sheep 
usually do not display clinical signs, 
and may serve as a reservoir of the 
virus which periodically reinfects deer 
populations. 

The most recent outbreak of HD in 
Virginia occurred during the autumn 



of 1986, as evidenced by observations 
of sloughing hooves on hunter-killed 
deer in 20 eastern counties. The out- 
break was widely distributed but mod- 
erate in severity, with apparently only 
light direct mortality. Outbreaks of 
HD have been documented in Virginia 
during eight of the 15 years since 1971, 
and HD is suspected of causing a die- 
off in 1962. The most recent outbreak 
which resulted in significant mortality 
was in 1980, when field surveys indi- 
cated that several hundred deer died in 
the vicinity of Fort Pickett in Notto- 
way and Dinwiddie counties. 

Management Efforts 

Because of the widespread distribu- 
tion and free-ranging characteristic of 
deer, conventional approaches for 
prevention or controlling diseases and 
parasites are not possible. Biologists 
know that the transfer of infectious 
diseases and parasites occurs more 
readily as a deer population increases 
in density. Also, deer which have an 
adequate year-round food supply nor- 
mally are less likely to become diseased 
than deer that are stressed due to poor 
nutrition or other factors. Therefore, 
the most effective means of reducing 
the problems of disease and parasites 
in deer is to maintain deer numbers at a 
level in balance with the available food 
supply. And, maintenance of proper 
deer population levels can only be 
accomplished by setting hunting sea- 
sons that promote an adequate annual 
harvest of both sexes. 

Sportsmen, landowners, and other 
citizens can assist wildlife biologists 
monitoring disease outbreaks by prompt- 
ly reporting observations of sick deer 
or unusual deer mortality. Reports 
should be made to the Department of 
Game and Inland Fisheries in Rich- 
mond by phoning (804) 257-1000 or 
by contacting a local Game Depart- 
ment wildlife biologist or game warden. 

'Note: An excellent comprehensive 
reference book concerning the subject 
of this article is entitled Diseases and 
Parasites of White-tailed Deer, edited by 
William R. Davidson (1981). Copies 
may be purchased for $30.00 each 
from Heritage Printers, Inc. Book 
Order Department, 510 West Fourth 
Street, Charlotte, North Carolina 
28202. □ 



NOVEMBER 1987 



31 



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Hunter Safety 



VIRGINIA'S WHITETAiLS 



Hunting has become increas- 
ingly popular over the years. 
During the 1986-87 hunting 
season, 319,574 hunting licenses were 
sold along with 294,396 big game 
licenses. In addition, 121,801 deer 
were harvested by hunters in the 
Commonwealth. 

Unfortunately, increased participa- 
tion in deer hunting lends itself to 
problems, including unethical, thought- 
less behavior, violation of game laws 
and, most importantly, unsafe hunting 
practices. A number of hunters' expe- 
riences during the 1986-87 season 
were not so enjoyable: 79 persons were 
injured in hunting accidents (13 fatally), 
and 43 of these injuries, including eight 
fatalities, occurred while deer hunting. 
Safe hunting practices for the deer 
hunting trip begin before the hunter 
ever leaves his home. Proper prepara- 
tion can save lives as well as prevent 
worry and concern. Be sure to: 1 ) Let 
someone know your destination, the 
name and address of the person(s) 
with whom you are hunting and your 
estimated time of arrival at home. 2) 
Wear the proper clothing (preferably 
several light layers) suited for wind, 
rain and cold. 3) Wear blaze orange. It 
is now required attire for all hunters or 
anyone accompanying a hunter during 
the deer firearms season. Each person 
must wear a blaze orange hat or upper- 
body clothing (camouflage orange is 
not acceptable), or display at least 100 
square inches of blaze orange within an 
arm's reach and visible from 360 
degrees. 4) Carry a small "emergency 
pack" containing such items as: matches 
(in a water-proof container), firestar- 
ters, emergency rations, light tarp, 
flashlight, whistle, compass, knife, 
nylon cord and a first aid kit. Most 
importantly, know how to use them. 




by Diane Thompson 

Training Sergeant 
Hunter Safety Program 



Opposite: photo by Kevin D. Shank 

These items will provide warmth, shel- 
ter and energy in an emergency situa- 
tion. And remember, the universal sig- 
nal for an emergency is three oi 
anything — three gunshots, three light 
flashes, etc. 

Prior to departing the hunting camp, 
each hunter must agree to follow basic 
safety rules. Listed below are some 
primary rules of safety — by no means 
all of them: 

1. All hunters should know the 



location of the other hunters and agree 
to remain at their assigned location. 
Hunters unexpectedly wandering a- 
round can cause confusion and acci- 
dents. 

2. Alwaystreatevery firearm as if it 
were loaded. 

3. Always keep the muzzle pointed 
in a safe direction. Keep the safety on 
until ready to shoot; but remember: 
the safety is merely a mechanical device 
which can fail. 

4. Unload guns when not in use; 
keep actions open and guns cased 
while traveling. 

5. Be sure your gun barrel is clear of 
obstructions and that you carry ammu- 
nition only of the proper size for the 
gun you are using. Carelessness of this 
type can cause the barrel to explode, 
resulting in injury or, in some instan- 
ces, death. 

6. Be sure of your target before you 
pull the trigger; know identifying fea- 
tures of the game you hunt and never 
make sound shots. 

7. Never point a gun at anything 
you do not intend to shoot; avoid all 
horseplay. 

8. Never climb a tree, jump a fence 
or travel by boat with a loaded gun. 
Never pull a gun toward you by the 
muzzle. 

9. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, 
hard surface or at water; be certain of a 
safe background before attempting to 
shoot at any game. 

10. Avoid alcoholic beverages and 
other drugs (including some over-the- 
counter medications) before or during 
hunting. 

1 1 . Take all precautions for a good, 
clean kill: knowledge of your firearm, 
distance judging, tracking and proper 
field care of game. 

In addition to safety, the deer hunter 



NOVEMBER 1987 



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for the safety of youngsters and veteran hunters alike; Game Department photo. | 



also has the responsibiUty of obeying 
the law. These laws exist to protect our 
rights and also to insure a healthy deer 
herd for years to come. Ignorance of 
the law is no excuse. 

Anyone who hunts or participates 
in a hunt is required to purchase a 
hunting license and carry it with him at 
all times. Additional licenses and regu- 
lations are detailed in the Game 
Department's hunting regulations bro- 
chure and the 1987 Virgina's Hunter's 
Guide, both available free by writing to 
the Game Department, Education Div- 
ision, P.O. Box 11104, Richmond, 
VA 23230-1104. 

And, upon killing a deer, do not 
forget that you are required to attach a 
tag from your big game license to the 
deer before moving it, and, without 
unnecessary delay, transport the deer 
to the nearest big-game checking 
station. 

The Virginia Hunter Education 
Program offers the sportsman an excel- 
lent opportunity to become aware of 
these and other safe hunting practices. 
Approximately 400,000 students have 
successfully completed the Virginia 
Hunter Education course since its 
inception in 1961, and beginning July 
1, 1988, all first-time hunters (be sure 
to save your old hunting license to 
prove you have hunted before) and 
hunters 16 years old and younger will 
be required to successfully complete a 
Hunter Education course prior to pur- 
chasing a hunting license. The course is 
a minimum of 10 hours and includes 
the following subject matter: history of 
hunting, ethics, laws, knowledge and 
safe handling of firearms, outdoor 
skills and survival, archery and bow- 
hunting, and mu2zleloading. 

Certification is good for life and 
honored throughout the United States 
and Canada. For information regard- 
ing courses in your area, contact your 
local Game and Fish Department 
Office, or the Richmond office at 
804/257-1000. 

Safety in deer hunting encompasses 
much more than a safe shot. No fire- 
arms safety rule ever prevented an 
accident. The hunter must care enough 
to follow the rules. Make the 1987-88 
deer season one which every hunter 
can return home from with a pleasant 
memory. □ 



34 



VIRGINIA WILDLIFE 



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